Eliot, ME. Autumn is a special time in New England: crisp, bright days give way to frosty nights, colorful leaves crunch underfoot, and the scent of wood smoke travels on the air. Honking geese fly overhead, and jack o’ lanterns and chrysanthemums adorn windowsills and ledges.
At Tidewater School, a local preschool and early grade school in the Waldorf tradition, autumn is also filled with traditions and festivals that enrich the children’s social and learning experience.
On the first day of fall, the early childhood and first grade children travel to a local farm to pick apples, celebrating both the onset of autumn and the harvest. The apples are brought back to the classroom and used by the children; some are dried, others are used to make applesauce or other baked goods shared in the classroom, and others are used in another tradition -- the Michaelmas festival.
The festival of Michaelmas occurs on September 29, and is a traditional Celtic holiday associated with the autumn equinox. According to The City of Lakes Waldorf School, “The festival is named for St. Michael, known as the protector of humanity, who inspires qualities of courage, initiative and steadfastness.” While avoiding the religious tones of Michaelmas, Waldorf schools utilize this allegory of good versus evil to incite courage and inner strength in the students. It is especially useful in the fall, in preparation for school work and the upcoming academic year.
Each year to celebrate Michaelmas, the grade school children at Tidewater enact a play of the threatening dragon and victorious dragon slayer, complete with recitation of poetry and singing. In addition, the community shares in soup made from the vegetables grown by the children in their gardens, and apple crisp made by the children from the apples picked at the farm.
Karen Traversy, the first grade teacher at Tidewater, notes that “through these festivals, the school cultivates community among children, teachers, parents, and friends.”
The onset of fall at Tidewater also sees the planting of garlic and other bulbs by the children, and putting to bed of herb and vegetable gardens. Additionally, in the autumnal theme of bravery and inner strength, the older grade children take an annual trip to Mt. Major to ‘conquer the peak’.
With the rich stories and festivals and traditions, songs and poetry, as well delicious food, autumn is certainly one of the favorite seasons among the Tidewater students and wider community.
For more information on Tidewater School or Waldorf education, please visit www.tidewaterschool.org.
Written by Christine Young, a parent of a Kindergarten child at Tidewater School